In these unstable economic times, and when many industries are still struggling to fill vacancies, New York City should tap into the unique skills of veterans and support employment programs that offer tailored support to meet to our needs.
Veterans like me can have difficulty adjusting to civilian life, including securing stable career prospects after the military. A Pew Research Center report shows that nearly 50% of post-9/11 veterans found it somewhat or very difficult to readjust to civilian life after their military service, and 28% say they received unemployment benefits.
I served our country in the Marine Corps from 2001 to 2005 and in the National Guard from 2006 to 2013. I was deployed to Afghanistan, serving overseas in 2012. After my term, due to a self-destructive lifestyle and alcoholism, I was incarcerated for five years. When I was released, I was eager to renew my life – and that’s when I found Project Renewal, a nonprofit the city funds to support veterans like me.
In 2018, I enrolled in the nonprofit’s culinary arts training program, which trains New Yorkers for careers in the culinary field. Many attendees are those who face barriers to finding employment, including veterans and those with criminal records like myself, but also New Yorkers who are unemployed, have experienced homelessness, or have a history of substance abuse.
The six months of classroom training and internship experience gave me confidence and motivation to continue. At the end of the program, the Renewal Project team was impressed with my hard work and dedication, and I was hired as a cook in the organization’s catering social enterprise, City Beet Kitchens. I have since been promoted twice and now work as a Training and Quality Control Manager.
I oversee the service Project Renewal contracts with other homeless shelters to provide food to their residents, assess food quality, resolve discrepancies, and provide feedback to the team for improvement. I enjoy applying many of the skills I learned during my service, including discipline, adaptability, critical thinking, and working as a team towards a common goal.
The restaurant industry has few barriers to entry and due to labor shortages it continues to have the most job openings, making it ideal for people who have already faced challenges when looking for a job.
The Project Renewal program opened my horizons to a whole new area of work after the military and set me on a career path with real opportunities for growth – something all veterans deserve. On this Veterans Day, I hope the City will continue to honor those who have served our country by investing in proven programs that meet our needs.
Richard Ralph is a veteran currently living in Brooklyn.